Cash4Clunkers (a.k.a. CARS): Bait and Switch?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Last night, I watched a Flood Automotive Group TV ad touting “Cash for Clunkers.” The message was simple: Uncle Sam’s got $1 billion for clunkers. Come get $4500 for your clunker. Not a single word about which vehicles qualify for the money. It didn’t even refer viewers to a website for details— like this ad for C4C “designated” dealer Phil Fitts Ford. A quick ring ’round twenty dealers nationwide shows a definite “reluctance” to discuss the particulars of the CARS program over the phone. “I’m sure your vehicle will qualify,” a Chrysler dealer told me re: my theoretical 2005 Chrysler 300. “Bring it down and we’ll have a look.”

“We haven’t received the guidelines yet,” a Chevy dealer said, in response to “how much money can I get for my 2002 Honda Civic?” Only one dealer said my non-applicable vehicle was non-applicable. In other words, thousands of car dealers are ready, willing and able to commit the sin of omission; luring old cars owners to the dealership with the prospect of “free” government cash—for which the customer’s vehicle doesn’t qualify.

Then there’s the other “danger.” What’s to stop dealers from saying “Well, your wreck doesn’t qualify for the government program, but I tell you what, WE’LL give you $5000 towards a new Enclave”? I heard those very words from the mouth of a mid-Western Buick dealer.

The DOT is making sure that traded-in clunkers qualify for the federal rebate. They’re doing their level best to ensure that the culled clunkers are disabled. But who’s watching dealers at the sharp end, protecting consumers against the same old fraud and misrepresentation? The same people doing it now. And look what a great job they’re doing.

While I applaud the DOT for their Herculean efforts to create a new, effective, efficient and ethically-administered federal program, and I’m a firm believer in Caveat emptor, CARS puts some of America’s most economically challenged consumers in the dealer crosshairs. Again.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Steven Lang Steven Lang on Jul 17, 2009

    You're right. We got the GC when my wife was 8 months pregnant with kid #2. It averaged around 20 mpg which is more than the Windstars and Freestars my wife drove once I started selling cars on the side.

  • Donpbenz Donpbenz on Jul 27, 2009

    Massachusetts law prohibits merchants from using "bait and switch" tactics. They may not advertise one product and then try to steer consumers to another product by refusing to show the advertised item, dispariging it or it's warranty or failing to provide a legally sufficient quantity. Under MA general Laws Chapter 93A and 940 CMR 6.06 a seller may be guilty of false advertising ( or of bait and switch tactics) if it advertises a particular item and then fails to provide sufficient quantity to meet reasonable demand. The ad must clearly state limited supplies and that no rain checks are available. It can offer a comparable substitute or it can prove shipping delays. This is precisely what happened to me today at a KIA dealership. When I purchased the Boston Herald that afternoon the ad still appeared. It is dissappointing that NONE of the dealers were able to produce a vehicle at the advertised price.

  • TheEndlessEnigma In '98 a guy I worked with came into work pissed, so pissed he was beside himself, so pissed he was beside himself and they were both pissed. He had bought a Seville the year before for his wife, a very buxom empty headed drink of water that was roughly 20 years his junior (she *LIKED* older men and he wasn't about to complain). He had gotten a call the afternoon before, she was broken down in the less than 1 year old Seville on the side of the NY Turnpike at the Galleria Mall in Cheektowaga. The car quite on her in traffic and it wouldn't start. They got it towed to a nearby Caddy dealer and they started checking out the problem immediately. As he told it, the car already had a little over 20k miles on it so the service manager was pretty concerned about a warranty engine failure, "These Northstar engines are bulletproof!". After about an hour at the shop the service manager comes to talk with them, "Uh, ma'am, when was the last time you had the oil changed"? "Oil change, don't they come with oil when you buy these cars?". Seems the engine seized up, right around 1 qt of oil, with a tar like consistency and full of sparkles, was found in the oil pan. The late '90s, a NorthStar engine, one year and 20k miles......never saw an oil change. Powertrain warranty claim? Refused. Engine replacement? You bet, $9900 in 1998 dollars.
  • VoGhost Quality review. Thanks!
  • VoGhost Love this collective clutching of pearls over a vehicle name not a single commenter will ever see, drive or buy.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Here's why" edition_cnn_com/2018/06/13/health/falling-iq-scores-study-intl/index.html
  • 28-Cars-Later Seriously, $85. GM Delta I is burning hot garbage to the point where the 1990 Saturn Z-body is leagues better. My mother inherited an '07 Ion with 30Kish otc which was destroyed in 2014 by a tipsy driver with a suspended license (driver's license enforcement is a joke in Pennsyltucky). Insurance paid out $6,400 when it was only worth about $5,800 IIRC, but sure 10 year later the "hipo" Delta I can fetch how much?